Confessions of a Dutch Formula 1 Hipster in the Max Verstappen era
Sunday, May 15th 2016, was in many ways a historic day. If you’re a Formula 1 fan, especially a Dutch one. Otherwise, it was a kind of uneventful sunday. On that day, Max Verstappen not only lead the first laps in a Grand Prix of any Dutchman, he was only the second ever (after his father Jos) to make it to the podium. He didn’t only make it to the podium, but he made it to the top step, the first ever Dutchman to win a Grand Prix, and in doing so smashed the record for youngest driver ever to win a race by about three years (previously held by Sebastian Vettel, 21-years old when he won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix). This had a remarkable effect: suddenly, the amount of Formula 1 fans and self-proclaimed experts in the Netherlands jumped from an estimated 5%, to 100%.
I have always been a fan of Formula 1. My dad was, and still is, a devoted fan of the sport. I was only three when Senna’s crash happened and I don’t remember it happening, but I’ve been told that for months, I was recreating the crash with my toy cars. I grew up with a giant poster of Michael Schumacher on my door, which came with my Carrera racetrack I received as a present when I was about four years old. I, along with my parents, spent unhealthy amounts on model cars, magazines, books, anything I could get my hand on. Not only did I see the races, I read everything about them I could. During a race weekend, my dad and I , and later my sister, would take turns trying to get the fastest laptimes on the track of that race. First in Grand Prix 2, then Grand Prix 3, F1 1998, F1 2000, and finally Grand Prix 4 before the rights to the license went exclusively to Sony for their Playstation-console.
My devotion to the sport has often led to ridicule. Many people don’t understand it the way I do, and it is their full right. Formula 1, as a sport, is way different from any sport (except WEC). It is not just about the athlete (20%), but also about the constructor and the car they are able to produce (80%). Many don’t understand it is not ‘just’ 20 cars driving 60 to 70 laps on a circuit, and only the start matters. That would be akin to saying only the final kilometer counts in professional cycling. The sport itself is way more intricate, and needs a level of understanding which in itself takes dedication. Some even said that it is a waste of time, since a Dutchman will never amount to anything in the sport. For many, trying to understand Formula 1 is too big of a hurdle, and I don’t blame anyone for not being interested enough to even try to understand it. If it is not for you, so be it. No problem, we’ll find other things to talk about.
But now, Max has won a race, and everyone and their grandma have become experts overnight.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. I am an F1 hipster. What I am about to say might, no, will sound pretentious. But that is what hipsters do. I liked Formula 1 before it was ‘cool’. I’ve spent years pressing F5 on news sites, hoping there are new developments in the racing world. I still use my algorithm to predict qualification and race results to predict races on sites like GuessTheGrid (with some success). I still am heavily active on multiple Formula 1 related subreddits. But.
I fear that the sudden rise in popularity of Formula 1 in the Netherlands is going to annoy me. A lot.
Now you might ask me, what is so bad about other people becoming interested in something you are so passionate about? Well. Allow me to explain. A good introduction would be the following video, created by a leading Dutch newspaper, titled ‘Say these things and it seems as if you’ve been watching Formula 1 before Max Verstappen was good [sic]’. Since it is in Dutch, I have written out a fully translated transcript of the video:
You can immediately show your knowledge before the start: “a bad qualification says nothing. Just look at John Watson in 1983, starting 22nd and finishing first.”
In the first corner, you continue: “his father always thought you had to win the race in the first corner, Max does it way smarter” (Jos Verstappen always took a lot of risk during the start).
If someone does something great in the first lap: “This boy knows how to turn a steering wheel.”
When a car fails you close your eyes and say headshakingly: “they don’t have their engine reliability under control, you could’ve seen that coming since testing (pre-season, ed.).”
During a heavy crash you show grief. “1st of May, 1994, Ayrton Senna, it all comes back.”
If Max Verstappen profits from another’s crash, you enthusiastically yell: “just finish the race, we learned that in Monaco 1996” (during that race only 3 cars made it to the finish line).
A strategy with three pit stops is called a ‘threestopper’ [lit]. Example: “I think a threestopper is kind of a risk, especially when it’s a matter of seconds”.
During a pit stop and nice weather, you always give some unasked advice: “mediums or softs? Nah, I would’ve immediately installed slicks with such a weather prediction” (slicks have no profile and are thus faster, but have less grip [sic!]).
And if Max Verstappen wins the race thanks to good lap times, you are of course unphased: “of course, this man can spare his tires like no one else and knows the apex better than his own home” (the apex is the ideal line [through a corner]).
Now that everyone is aware of your expertise, put other’s excitement into context and sigh: “kinda tense, but it will never be as tense as Prost vs. Lauda in 1984” (the championship was decided by a half-point in favor of Lauda).
Not only is this video riddled with errors (slicks are just a common name for ungrooved, dry-weather tires (regardless of medium or soft compound) and they inherently give more grip than grooved tires), but also some sentences are just plainly wrong. Take the title for instance. ‘Before Max was good’? Max was always good. Max was good in karting, he was good in Formula 3. He was good in the Toro Rosso. The only difference now is that he has the material to turn his qualities into results able to grab headlines. If you’re actually invested in the sport, you’d know this.
Now, as said, I don’t expect a new fan to grasp the full extent of the dynamics of Formula 1. If you come up to me and ask me, I am more than willing to share my insight into the sport. Happily even. Introducing the sport I enjoy to a newcomer is one of the things I enjoy doing most. But.
The video is telling for something that is inherently Dutch. Part of our culture.
We don’t ask questions about things we know little about. We can’t admit that our knowledge on a certain topic falls short. We hate resorting to outside help to gain more contextual information. In our minds, our knowledge is sufficient to be called an expert. Now, not many would openly admit feeling expertly about it (our sobriety prevents that), but if the topic would be brought up, we feel the need to express our (unfounded) opinion on the matter. The video is not only a response to this arrogance, but also (due to the amount of errors and misrepresentations) a prime example.
Yesterday at work, I noticed the first few grievances which made me think of writing this. I have a few colleagues who share my passion and with whom I like discussing past events whenever I encounter them. Other colleagues took note of that, because yesterday some, who admitted never having seen a full race, approached me with their theories about the Mercedes crash, Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s pit stop strategies, and Max’ ultimate victory. Now, I don’t blame them, they are enthusiastic about something new to them and want to share it with someone who they know likes talking about the subject. But what bothers me, is the fact that they read a few news articles and Facebook discussions somehow excuses them from listening to me when I try to counter their hastily drawn conclusions.
Listen. Absorb. Contemplate. Process. Conclude. Repeat. Feel free to ask me anything, but if I respond, please do those things when I try to answer your question. You are not an expert. Neither am I fully. I know a lot about the political aspect of Formula 1, but I lack a full technological grasp of the sport. Sure, I can confidently and correctly explain how downforce works, but I have no framework to explain the exact physics behind the MGU-H/K. I can give you some hints and a general outline, but that is where my knowledge ends.
The fact Verstappen won the race is not because Ricciardo does not know how to treat his tires. Yes, Verstappen might be better at conserving them than his teammate. However, his tires were expected to hit the cliff at 23 laps, but instead he made it 36. With all the best tire-conservation in the world, the 50% difference is not explained by driver differences. It is because on friday, the weather was clouded and the track was a lot cooler (by about 15 degrees Celsius). The tire was not tested for the circumstances during the race, and it was calculated that with a track surface of about 42, the tires would last a maximum of 25 laps. Red Bull took a gamble with Max, a gamble which paid off. If their calculations turned out right, Ricciardo or Vettel would have won. But they didn’t, and because Ferrari had Raikkonen mirror Max’ strategy, he came in second. It was a shot in the dark, and it paid off. But ultimately, it was all circumstantial. None of this would have happened if the Mercedes drivers hadn’t crashed into each other.
Red Bull are, objectively, the third team in terms of space. On some circuits with a larger emphasis on raw engine power, they might even be the 4th team. Realistically, they battle for 5th or 6th. Inevitably, when Max achieves such result, criticism from these so-called experts will arise, with no contextual basis for why Max can’t just win every race. I dread this day.
I’m not claiming new fans shouldn’t enjoy Formula 1. I just want to express that Formula 1 is not as clear-cut as other sports. The best driver doesn’t always win, and you need to be able to deal with that injustice. It’s a constructor’s sport. The manufacturer is the most important aspect, which is also why Mercedes-Benz happily pumps hundreds of millions into the team.
If you, the new fan, are uncertain whether you want to get more understanding of the sport, I suggest you watch the movie Rush. For the guys: it has fast cars and boobs. For the girls, it has Chris Hemsworth in the leading role. If you’ve seen that and/or you (already) know you want to get more knowledge of the politics behind the scene, watch the documentary Senna. If you can’t find a location to get either, there’s a kick-ass torrentwebsite which by law I’m not allowed to link to.
If your thirst for more knowledge is still not quenched, Reddit’s Formula 1 guide has a lot of extra video’s, articles, and more to get you going. And if that is not enough: feel free to ask me any question in the comment section below!